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Books > Buddhist > Mahayana > The Boddhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized
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The Boddhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized
The Boddhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized
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About The Book

If we are material beings living in a material world-and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are-then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious) inclinations are attracted to Buddhism-almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. Atheistic when it comes to a creator god, Buddhism is otherwise opulently polytheistic, with spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits. Its beliefs include karma, rebirth, nirvana, and nonphysical states of mind. What is a nonreligious, materially grounded spiritual seeker to do? In The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to subtract the hocus-pocus from Buddhism and discover a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing.

“Buddhism naturalized”, as Flanagan constructs it, contains a metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics; it is a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan’s naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. Buddhism naturalized offers instead a tool for achieving happiness and human flourishing-a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

About The Author

OWEN FLANAGAN is James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is the author of consciousness Reconsidered and The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World.

Preface

This book is the unintended consequence of an accident. In the summer of 1999, while on a working vacation in Costa Rica finishing Dreaming Souls (2000b), I received an email inviting me to participate in a weeklong discussion the following March in Dharamsala, India, with the 14th Dalai Lama and a handful of scientists and philosophers on the topic of “destructive emotions.” Prior to the invitation I had some curiosity and a bit of knowledge about Buddhism, as well as a strong conviction of the worth of comparative philosophy, reasoning that either there was or wasn’t wisdom about the human condition, and that studying different, and if possible unrelated traditions, would reveal which it was, and if there was any, what it is. The invitation to the Dalai Lama’s compound in Dharamsala was, I was told, due to a positive impression my book on the nature of consciousness, had made on several of the Dalai Lama’s scientific acquaintances (there was no reason then or now to think that the Dalai Lama himself had read any of my work).

The meeting, the Eighth Mind and Life Conference in the spring of 2000, led to a certain unexpected visibility for the participants, including myself, since ideas hatched at the meeting (not by me) led immediately to some widely discussed neuroscientific experiments attempting to determine whether, or possibly to demonstrate that, Buddhist brains revealed their owners to be unusually happy. Because I had been present at the original discussions of whether Buddhism-specifically certain kinds of Buddhist meditation practices-might produce positive changes in the hearts and minds of practitioners, I was immediately and frequently asked to speak and write about the results of these experiments, which according to the media, more than the scientists involved, showed that Buddhism, uniquely perhaps among the world’s great wisdom traditions, might produce what Aristotle said everyone wishes for, to possess eudaimonia, to be a happy spirit, to flourish. The publication of Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book about our meetings, Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama (2003a), helped establish the consensus that someone, somewhere, and pretty recently, had proven that Buddhists were the happiest people in the world.

By 2003, thanks to numerous chances to speak and write on the alleged connection between Buddhism and happiness, and by then serious immersion in the study of Buddhist philosophy (for the record, I am not a Buddhist), the idea for this book was hatched and writing began. Two aspects of my serendipitous situation were especially motivating, despite many interruptions, including an intervening book, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), which contained a chapter engaging the Dalai Lama’s views on astrophysics, evolution, justice (karma), and consciousness, a descendant of which is contained in this book as chapter 3. First, as a philosopher who has spent most of my life, not just my career, thinking about the nature of mind, the mind-body problem, no mind, morals, and the meaning of life connect, trying to make the world safe for a fully materialist view of mind, I was intrigued, delighted, and frequently bewildered by having an inside seat at one of those rare moments when science, specifically cognitive science, philosophy, and religion, or something like religion, come together, interact, and intersect. There were widespread discussions, and many published expressions, which continue, of the idea that neuroscience was actually in the process of empirically vindicating the claims of one lived philosophical tradition, namely Buddhism, to yield happiness and flourishing, or something in the vicinity, at a higher rate of return than the other contenders. The hyperbole was (and continues to be) jaw-dropping. I judged the desire expressed and embodied in the idea of vindicating scientifically the claims of a philosophical tradition to be uncommon and thus worth paying close attention. Here were people, Buddhists or folk who judge Buddhism as the correct answer to the question “How ought I to be and live?”, who are not typically materialists about consciousness, looking at the brain for markers or correlates of a happy and good human life. I set myself this role-a sort of epistemologist-participant-observer from the planets of analytic philosophy and twenty-first-century cognitive science. It was interesting, to say the least, to watch a lived philosophical tradition interested in empirical evidence of its efficacy. I tried to watch the dialectic closely and now offer a report of the lessons learned.

The second motivating feature was this: I have always been a fan of comparative philosophy, long convinced that there are certifiably great non-Western philosophical traditions, such as Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, or for that matter extinct Western traditions like stoicism, Epicureanism, and Cynicism, about which most Westerners, philosophers included, are ignorant. I’ve always thought that the study of these traditions might disabuse us of several related blind spots: ethnic chauvinism, the view that non-Western traditions are esoteric in a bad way, for reasons beyond their unfamiliarity; the idea that Religion (with a big “R”) is inevitable for psychological reasons; and that it is required, true or false, to shore up meaning and morals. I thought this an opportune time to introduce my fellow philosopher, as well as the many scientific naturalists who like me are allergic to hocus pocus, to a suitably deflated secular Buddhism, what I call Buddhism naturalized. Buddhism, like Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies, is a comprehensive philosophy. It contains a metaphysic, an epistemology, and an ethics-a way of conceiving the human predicament, human nature, and human flourishing-that is deep and not simply superstitious nonsense. Now some parts of Buddhism are superstitious nonsense, so there was also the prospect of asking this question: Is it possible to take an ancient comprehensive philosophy like Buddhism, subtract the hocus pocus, and have a worthwhile philosophy for twenty-first-century scientifically informed secular thinkers? It struck me that among the world’s major spiritual traditions, Buddhism (I’d say Taoism and Confucianism as well, but that is a different book) isn’t ethically or politically particularly dangerous and is, in its saner forms, philosophically extremely sophisticated, even credible. The history of the West has been and continues to be the story of bloodbaths rooted in part in preposterous faith claims, whereas Buddhism has been kindler and gentler despite being a proselytizing tradition like Christianity and Islam. In his 1966/1975 classic lecture, “The Buddhist Attitude to Other Religious,” K.N. Jayatilleke writes:

The Buddhist attitude to other religions has from its very inception been one of critical tolerance. But what is significant is that it was able to combine a missionary zeal with its tolerant outlook. Not a drop of blood has been shed throughout the ages in the propagation and dissemination of Buddhism in the many lands to which it spread and religious wars either between the schools of Buddhism or against other religions have been unheard of. Very rare instances of the persecution of heretical opinions are not lacking but they have been exceptional and atypical. Buddhism has also shown a remarkable degree of adaptability in the course of its historical expansion.

One might object to the claim that Buddhism is a comprehensive philosophy that is peaceful, tolerant, and not particularly politically dangerous: there are either no successful Buddhist sates or the ones that are successful in the sense of being stable, still with us, and so on, are not exactly exemplary. As I write, Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon when Jayatilleke wrote the “not a drop of blood” words above, has just emerged from a bloody civil war. Myanmar is the longest-lasting Soviet-style military dictatorship in the world (tied perhaps with North Korea). In Bhutan, famous for its king’s endorsement of the Gross Happiness Product (GHP), racist practices against Nepalese are considered normal and acceptable. And many of the very same Tibetan Buddhists who make Hollywood weep with nostalgia for Shangri La, and who make the (other) Chinese angry, do so because they long for the most undemocratic form of government conceivable, a feudal theocracy where the leaders are reincarnations of reincarnations.

These facts might be disassociated from Buddhist philosophy, since in each case, with the possible exception of the Tibetan one, the problematic political regime is not itself Buddhist. There is also the possibility, which is what I think really, that Buddhism is a comprehensive philosophy that is very weak in the political philosophy department, overrating compassion and underrating the need for institutions that enact justice as fairness. But again that also is another story.

There are some excellent Buddhist scholars, but almost none of them teach in philosophy departments at research universities in America that offer PhDs (although many excellent ones teach and do research in religion departments at research universities and in philosophy departments at excellent liberal arts colleges). This is strange given that Buddhism is so philosophically rich, contains ideas about personal identity and the metaphysics of nature and causation that ought to appeal to contemporary philosophers, and especially given that as many as one in twelve people on earth are Buddhists.

Most of my personal interaction with Buddhists over the last decade has been with Tibetan Buddhists. Because of the 14the Dalai Lama’s charisma and visibility, certain aspects of this form of Buddhism are familiar, even if not well understood in the West (similar to the situation with Zen in the second half of the twentieth century). Although I do not (as best I can avoid them) enter into sectarian debates that divide Buddhists, I have tried to get a feel myself for the spirit that runs through the Buddhisms - there are only Buddhisms, no Buddhism-by spending time in countries where forms of Buddhism other than the Tibetan variant are lived, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Thailand. I thank the many East Asian and Southeast Asian Buddhists who helped this gadfly try to catch on to their lived philosophy. What I learned in Asia as well as in travels throughout America and Northern Europe talking to Western Buddhists who claim to be of Tibetan or Tantric or Thai or Vipassana or Ch’an (Zen) or Pure Land lineages is that all such souls (Eastern and Western) think they really know what Buddhism is, what the Buddha said, thought, and meant, when in fact they are inspired either by one of the many varieties of Buddhism or by something of a mix of the many varieties of Buddhism. In the East, most Buddhists take their variant as the right one, the true form. In the West, outside the small circle of scholars and serious Buddhists, the largest sects of Buddhists or the Budd-curious divide bimodally depending on what aspects of Buddhism they are most impressed by and interested in: either it is meditation and the personal soul soothing they see meditation offering or it is becoming nicer, more compassionate, and the soul soothing it (or thinking of oneself as nicer) offers. There is room I came to think for a book that introduces those interested in comparative philosophy, as well as the many Westerners interested in Buddhism only or mostly as a form of mental hygiene and/or moral self-improvement and self-indulgence, to the deep structure of the metaphysic, epistemology, and ethics of Buddhist philosophy.

As for by own understanding of Buddhism. Hmm. Once in Korea I was told on arrival that a professor friend had warned that I would be speaking on “Buddhaganism” – Flanagan’s interpretation of Buddhism. This is not a bad way to think about my opinionated interpretation and examination of Buddhist philosophy and psychology offered here. Although I try to offer a credible primer on Buddhist philosophy, I am interested in Buddhism as a great philosophy, in the same sense that we think of Confucian philosophy and classical Greek philosophy as great. But, as in these other cases, I am interested in whether for us contemporary folk there is a useful and truthful philosophy in Buddhism, among the Buddhisms, that is compatible with the rest of knowledge as it now exists and specifically, because this is always a problem for spiritual traditions, whether Buddhism can be naturalized, tamed, and made compatible with a philosophy that is empirically responsible, and that does not embrace the low epistemic standards that permit all manner of superstition and nonsense, sometimes moral evil as well, in the name of tolerance, or, what is different, high spiritual attainment that warrants teleological suspension of the ethical in the hands of fanatics of all stripes. The demand for high epistemic standards is not only directed to Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, it is also intended to call to task those glib souls who claim that science, specifically neuroscience, can tell us, even that it has already told us, about what makes for human flourishing and for true happiness, and that it can reveal, even that it has revealed, how Buddhism, or for that matter any other great comprehensive philosophical tradition, produces what we all want, to achieve eudaimonia, to flourish, to be happy. All such claims are scientifically premature, as well as philosophically naïve. Flourishing and happiness are not in the head, at least not only in the head. These things-flourshing and happiness-might be in our hands if we pay close attention to which among the myriad experiments in living work well, and which ones not so well. History, sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, comparative philosophy, even what I call comparative neurophilosophy are required, but also happily available, as tools to advance the projects of understanding better whether and how human flourishing is possible, if, that is, it is possible. Living well, finding meaning in a material world for finite beings is a really hard problem, the hardest problem of all.

Introduction: Buddhism Naturalized

Anachronism and Ethnocentrism
Suppose we permitted ourselves this luxury: invite Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, or any other interesting or wise dead person with a view, or who is a representative of a tradition, into our conversations about our problems-poverty, health care, capitalism, how to be a good person, how to live well, to flourish, to be happy-and listen to what they say. This is anachronistic. Some say anachronism is bad, even that it is not allowed. Allow it.

Next imagine responding to the anachronistic answers of our respected ancestors with our own reflective standards of cogency, wisdom, and breadth and depth, feeling free to judge their answers as helpful or inadequate for our problems in our time. This is ethnocentric. It is temporally different but logically identical to judging the ideas and ways of other contemporary peoples as well suited for us or not suited for us, as good for us or not good for us in our time. Some say ethnocentrism is bad, even that it is not allowed. Allow it.

Three Philosophical Styles: Comparative, Fusion, and Cosmopolitan
Next consider three styles of doing philosophy. First there is comparative. Compare and contrast. Regarding ethics, Confucians say that filial piety (xiao) is a mandatory virtue. Aristotle doesn’t mention xiao or anything in its vicinity as essential to morality. For Buddhists, compassion (karuna) is the first and highest virtue; for citizens of contemporary liberal societies, left or right, individual compassion is an optional virtue while justice or fairness, at both the personal and political levels, holds pride of place as a constraint on the exercise of otherwise unlimited freedom. Second, there is fusion. What do we get when we add Confucian xiao to Aristotle's list of virtues? Is it an interesting, appealing mix or not? Could such a mixture work to improve our culture, say, by making the youth more respectful and society more orderly? Finally, there is cosmopolitan. Think of the exercise of reading and living and speaking across different traditions as open, non- committal, energized by an ironic or skeptical attitude about all the forms of life being expressed, embodied, and discussed, including one's own, but sensitive also to the demands of one's own way of being and living given its utterly contingent but nonetheless identity-constitutive role in making one who he or she is. The cosmopolitan is a listener and a speaker, an anachronistic and ethnocentric one, he or she compares and contrasts, is willing to try fusings of silly and safe sorts, but mostly likes living at the intersection of multiple spaces of meaning, waiting and seeing and watching whatever happens happen.

Many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism because it offers one way to be "spiritual but not religious," the currently favored answer to the religion question on social networking sites. This is an interesting development. Historically Buddhism is atheistic or quietistic when it comes to a creator God. Siddhartha put the creation question, as well as most other standard metaphysical questions, aside in one early sutra as impractical or beyond human understanding or both. But Buddhism is opulently poly- theistic insofar as spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits abound (Collins 2003, 104). Buddhists in East and Southeast Asia believe in rebirth in about the same proportions as most North Americans believe in heaven. Amusingly, many believers in heaven find belief in rebirth superstitious and thus silly, whereas from a reflective naturalistic perspective both are silly. Is a fully secular, naturalistic understanding of Buddhism possible? Are Quakers and Unitarians Christians? Are secular, naturalistic Buddhists really Buddhists?

Naturalism comes in many varieties (Flanagan 2006), but the entry-level union card-David Hume is our hero-expresses solidarity with this motto: "Just say no to the supernatural." Rebirths, heavens, hells, creator gods, teams of gods, village demons, miracles, divine retributions in the form of plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis are things naturalists don't believe in. What there is, and all there is, is natural stuff, and everything that happens has some set of natural causes that produce it-although we may not be able to figure out what these causes are or were. Why be a naturalist? World historical evidence suggests that naturalism, vague as it is, keeps being vindicated, while the zones "explained" by the supernatural get smaller everyday. Naturalism is a good bet.

Buddhism Naturalized
Imagine Buddhism without rebirth and without a karmic system that guarantees justice ultimately will be served, without nirvana, without bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves, without Buddha worlds, without nonphysical states of mind, without any deities, without heaven and hell realms, without oracles, and without lamas who are reincarnations of lamas. What would be left? My answer is that what would remain would be an interesting and defensible philosophical theory with a metaphysics, a theory about what there is and how it is, an epistemology, a theory about how we come to know and what we can know, and an ethics, a theory about virtue and vice and how best to live. This philosophical theory is worthy of attention by analytic philosophers and scientific naturalists because it is deep. Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, is compatible with the neo- Darwinian theory of evolution and with a commitment to scientific materialism. Such a total philosophy, again if there is or could be such a thing that could be called credibly "Buddhist" after subtracting what is psychologically and sociologically understandable, but that epistemically speaking is incredible superstition and magical thinking, would be what I call "Buddhism naturalized," or something in its vicinity. Such a theory might shed light on the human predicament, on how finite material beings such as human animals fit into the larger scheme of material being. Because such a theory would speak honestly, without the mind-numbing and wishful hocus pocus that infects much Mahayana Buddhism, but possibly not so much early Theravada Buddhism, Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, delivers what Buddhism possibly uniquely among the world's live spiritual traditions, promises to offer: no false promises, no positive illusions, no delusions. False self-serving belief, moha, is a sin for Buddhists.

"Buddhism naturalized" is in the declarative mode, thus inviting being read as a moniker for a kind of Buddhism that already exists, and indeed I think it does. But one might think, and think rightly, that even if naturalistic Buddhism does have some advocates, it is definitely a minority movement. Almost every university professor and college-educated businessperson I interviewed in 2009 in Thailand claimed to believe that one can purchase, by donations or by good acts, "merit" that will be counted toward a better rebirth; the Dalai Lama consults oracles; and Alan Wallace, a prominent American Buddhist scholar, speaks for the majority in insisting that Buddhism is incompatible with "neurophysicalism"-the view that mental events are brain events-of the sort that I, like most other philosophers of mind and neuroscientists, defend. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak or write "Buddhism naturalized!" as an imperative, which would make it clear that this is a work of advocacy for something that doesn't yet have any traction, at most a tenuous foothold, but that I think ought to exist, something worth fantasizing about like the "the best chocolate cake in the history of the universe that is also not fattening!" A better way of putting the topic, the issue, the problem might be neither declaratively nor imperatively, but more humbly in the form of a question, "Buddhism naturalized?", which conveys that what I am up to, or what I should be wondering about, is the question of whether there is or could be such an item as naturalistic Buddhism. This is the way perhaps that a true cosmopolitan would engage in my project.

Even if there is a minority movement that fits the bill of naturalized Buddhism in the sense that it dissociates itself from beliefs in supernatural and nonphysical phenomena, it does not follow that it really deserves to call itself Buddhism. Actually it doesn't really matter to me whether the philosophical theory I am interested in talking about here is called "Buddhism," "buddhism," or just the philosophical theory-the metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics-that remains after you subtract the unwarranted nonnatural beliefs in Buddhism from Buddhism.

It might be claimed that "naturalistic Buddhism" is possible because it once was, or is now, actual. The original Buddhism of Siddhartha Gautama from 500 BCE, and possibly some kinds of less metaphysically extravagant Theravada Buddhism of the first few centuries of the common era, as well as contemporary secular Western Buddhism(s) come to mind as candidates. Still one might wonder whether such a thing as Buddhism naturalized as I conceive it, and thus even the Buddhism of Siddhartha himself, is or could really be Buddhist, as opposed to some twisted sister of the real thing. There is fool's gold but it isn't really gold. Gold is the substance with atomic number 79. Good imitations of gold are not gold. Could a tradition like Buddhism be like that? Specifically, could it be that if you subtract the hocus pocus about rebirth and karma, and bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves, and Buddha worlds, and nonphysical states of mind, and deities (although not a creator god), and heaven and hell realms, and oracles, and lamas who are reincarnations of lamas, there is no Buddhism left? Could this suite of supernatural beliefs be to Buddhism what the atomic number 79 is to gold, such that whatever it is that is on offer under the guise of Buddhism naturalized, it isn't, can't be a bona fide Buddhism without these nonnatural, supernatural beliefs?

Perhaps Buddhism naturalized would be a weird or dangerous doctrine, or at a minimum and more credibly, as I've said, it might not really beBuddhist. Think of it this way: Can one be a Jew, Christian, or Muslim without heaven or hell or without God, say Yahweh, God, Allah, conceived as one and the same or different conceptions of God; Or with one (either one-God and heaven and hell) and not the other (God but not heaven or hell, say)? Because what is actual is possible, some secular Jews would seem to be proof that some such credible and stable Judaism naturalized exists. Perhaps some secular humanists from Britain or the United States or Iraq or Turkey can make the same claim for themselves-that is, that they are Christians or Muslims without the supernatural stuff. There are now, in the West at least, wise persons educated III the tradition who claim to be nonbelieving Buddhists, something akin to what we would call agnostics and atheists if we were inside the Abrahamic traditions. Stephen Batchelor (2010), a former monk in both a Tibetan (Gelug) and Korean (Zen) lineage, calls himself a Buddhist atheist.

Scientific Naturalism and Analytic Philosophy
Naturalists believe that when it comes to saying what there is, or might be, we should stick close to the facts. And when it comes to explaining how things that happened or are happening happened, stick to causes that have revealed themselves both to exist and to possess actual causal powers that could explain the phenomena. Despite the fun provided, tooth fairies are not candidates for what gets done when a child loses her tooth and hides it under her pillow. Mommies and daddies are. Sometimes how things happened, say the Big Bang, are cloaked in mystery. Naturalists endorse quietism or neutrality on such mysteries, awaiting in this case the experts, the astrophysicists, to say something deeper than that, which is now known. It is not just a matter of opinion to which everyone has an equal entitlement to speak (and have us listen) about how things happened or are happening, when what happened or how it happened is puzzling or obscure.

Analytic philosophy is a style of philosophy that prefers care in argumentation, and that favors strong inductive and/or valid and sound arguments, where possible, for its conclusions. Poetic, purely evocative discourse is welcomed, as long as its truth claims, if there are any, can be put into arguments. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are stunningly great analytic philosophers who write poetically but meet this standard. Pure poetry, artistic expression, is preferred and/or privileged when it comes to expressing how things seem; more direct modes-scientific and analytic ways of speaking, writing, and arguing-are preferred when describing the way things are.

The anachronistic, ethnocentric, and cosmopolitan discussion that follows has two parts, which can be read independently of each other. Part I, "An Essay in Comparative Neurophilosophy," is devoted to extending a contemporary discussion that crosses boundaries between neuroscience and philosophy and pertains specifically to the question of whether Buddhism produces flourishing or, what is different, happiness, and whether neuroscience can study such things as flourishing and happiness. The very public discussion about the alleged connection between Buddhism and happiness gives me a chance to wear the only two hats I own. With my philosopher- of-mind hat on, I write a cautionary tale of excessive enthusiasm for what brain science alone can reveal about what we want most to know about: in the present case, the causes and constituents of human flourishing and hap- piness. With my comparative philosopher cap on, I try to isolate what claims a naturalized Buddhism might make on behalf of itself as an embodied philosophy that produces its own kind of flourishing and happiness; and I try to explain what kind of flourishing and happiness that is, what I call eudai-Monia Buddha and happiness Buddha. At present, there is no basis for the claim that Buddhists are the happiest people in the world, even that they are happier than average. I explain a host of reasons for skepticism that any evidence for such a claim exists or is in the offing, ever. Part I ends with a chapter on Buddhist epistemology, which I claim is staunchly empiricist, and thus science friendly and potentially attractive to naturalists. Because Buddhist epistemology is empiricist, it has I claim the tools internal to itself to naturalize. Buddhism naturalized can be achieved without a hostile takeover.

Part II, "Buddhism as a Natural Philosophy," takes up the feature of Buddhism that makes it most interesting to this philosopher, namely, Buddhism claims that there is a powerful conceptual and possibly motivational link between being an empiricist epistemologist, gaining metaphysical insight into the impermanence of everything including one's self, and being a good person who flourishes and possibly is happy. Part II is devoted to explaining more thoroughly what, assuming now there can be such a thing, a naturalized Buddhism would look like, and how it might be an interesting conversation partner to those of us who are scientific naturalists and analytic philosophers, and who are still trying, after all the years, to better understand what there is, how we can know it, and how best to live given all the uncertainty. It might seem odd to say this, but I will: among the world's great still living spiritual traditions, Buddhism naturalized offers, along with Confucianism, which was always pretty naturalistic, an interesting, possibly useful way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

Contents

Prefaceix
Acknowledgmentsxv
Introduction: Buddhism Naturalized1
IAn Essay in Comparative Neurophiliosophy
1The Bodhisattva's Brain9
2The Color of Happiness37
3Buddhist Epistemology and Science59
IIBuddhism as a Natural Philosophy
4Selfless Persons93
5Being No-Self and Being Nice115
6Virtue and Happiness165
Postscript: Cosmopolitanism and Comparative Philosophy203
Notes209
References237
Index249

The Boddhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized

Item Code:
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2013
ISBN:
9789381406175
Language:
English
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278
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About The Book

If we are material beings living in a material world-and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are-then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious) inclinations are attracted to Buddhism-almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. Atheistic when it comes to a creator god, Buddhism is otherwise opulently polytheistic, with spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits. Its beliefs include karma, rebirth, nirvana, and nonphysical states of mind. What is a nonreligious, materially grounded spiritual seeker to do? In The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to subtract the hocus-pocus from Buddhism and discover a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing.

“Buddhism naturalized”, as Flanagan constructs it, contains a metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics; it is a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan’s naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. Buddhism naturalized offers instead a tool for achieving happiness and human flourishing-a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

About The Author

OWEN FLANAGAN is James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is the author of consciousness Reconsidered and The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World.

Preface

This book is the unintended consequence of an accident. In the summer of 1999, while on a working vacation in Costa Rica finishing Dreaming Souls (2000b), I received an email inviting me to participate in a weeklong discussion the following March in Dharamsala, India, with the 14th Dalai Lama and a handful of scientists and philosophers on the topic of “destructive emotions.” Prior to the invitation I had some curiosity and a bit of knowledge about Buddhism, as well as a strong conviction of the worth of comparative philosophy, reasoning that either there was or wasn’t wisdom about the human condition, and that studying different, and if possible unrelated traditions, would reveal which it was, and if there was any, what it is. The invitation to the Dalai Lama’s compound in Dharamsala was, I was told, due to a positive impression my book on the nature of consciousness, had made on several of the Dalai Lama’s scientific acquaintances (there was no reason then or now to think that the Dalai Lama himself had read any of my work).

The meeting, the Eighth Mind and Life Conference in the spring of 2000, led to a certain unexpected visibility for the participants, including myself, since ideas hatched at the meeting (not by me) led immediately to some widely discussed neuroscientific experiments attempting to determine whether, or possibly to demonstrate that, Buddhist brains revealed their owners to be unusually happy. Because I had been present at the original discussions of whether Buddhism-specifically certain kinds of Buddhist meditation practices-might produce positive changes in the hearts and minds of practitioners, I was immediately and frequently asked to speak and write about the results of these experiments, which according to the media, more than the scientists involved, showed that Buddhism, uniquely perhaps among the world’s great wisdom traditions, might produce what Aristotle said everyone wishes for, to possess eudaimonia, to be a happy spirit, to flourish. The publication of Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book about our meetings, Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama (2003a), helped establish the consensus that someone, somewhere, and pretty recently, had proven that Buddhists were the happiest people in the world.

By 2003, thanks to numerous chances to speak and write on the alleged connection between Buddhism and happiness, and by then serious immersion in the study of Buddhist philosophy (for the record, I am not a Buddhist), the idea for this book was hatched and writing began. Two aspects of my serendipitous situation were especially motivating, despite many interruptions, including an intervening book, The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), which contained a chapter engaging the Dalai Lama’s views on astrophysics, evolution, justice (karma), and consciousness, a descendant of which is contained in this book as chapter 3. First, as a philosopher who has spent most of my life, not just my career, thinking about the nature of mind, the mind-body problem, no mind, morals, and the meaning of life connect, trying to make the world safe for a fully materialist view of mind, I was intrigued, delighted, and frequently bewildered by having an inside seat at one of those rare moments when science, specifically cognitive science, philosophy, and religion, or something like religion, come together, interact, and intersect. There were widespread discussions, and many published expressions, which continue, of the idea that neuroscience was actually in the process of empirically vindicating the claims of one lived philosophical tradition, namely Buddhism, to yield happiness and flourishing, or something in the vicinity, at a higher rate of return than the other contenders. The hyperbole was (and continues to be) jaw-dropping. I judged the desire expressed and embodied in the idea of vindicating scientifically the claims of a philosophical tradition to be uncommon and thus worth paying close attention. Here were people, Buddhists or folk who judge Buddhism as the correct answer to the question “How ought I to be and live?”, who are not typically materialists about consciousness, looking at the brain for markers or correlates of a happy and good human life. I set myself this role-a sort of epistemologist-participant-observer from the planets of analytic philosophy and twenty-first-century cognitive science. It was interesting, to say the least, to watch a lived philosophical tradition interested in empirical evidence of its efficacy. I tried to watch the dialectic closely and now offer a report of the lessons learned.

The second motivating feature was this: I have always been a fan of comparative philosophy, long convinced that there are certifiably great non-Western philosophical traditions, such as Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, or for that matter extinct Western traditions like stoicism, Epicureanism, and Cynicism, about which most Westerners, philosophers included, are ignorant. I’ve always thought that the study of these traditions might disabuse us of several related blind spots: ethnic chauvinism, the view that non-Western traditions are esoteric in a bad way, for reasons beyond their unfamiliarity; the idea that Religion (with a big “R”) is inevitable for psychological reasons; and that it is required, true or false, to shore up meaning and morals. I thought this an opportune time to introduce my fellow philosopher, as well as the many scientific naturalists who like me are allergic to hocus pocus, to a suitably deflated secular Buddhism, what I call Buddhism naturalized. Buddhism, like Plato and Aristotle’s philosophies, is a comprehensive philosophy. It contains a metaphysic, an epistemology, and an ethics-a way of conceiving the human predicament, human nature, and human flourishing-that is deep and not simply superstitious nonsense. Now some parts of Buddhism are superstitious nonsense, so there was also the prospect of asking this question: Is it possible to take an ancient comprehensive philosophy like Buddhism, subtract the hocus pocus, and have a worthwhile philosophy for twenty-first-century scientifically informed secular thinkers? It struck me that among the world’s major spiritual traditions, Buddhism (I’d say Taoism and Confucianism as well, but that is a different book) isn’t ethically or politically particularly dangerous and is, in its saner forms, philosophically extremely sophisticated, even credible. The history of the West has been and continues to be the story of bloodbaths rooted in part in preposterous faith claims, whereas Buddhism has been kindler and gentler despite being a proselytizing tradition like Christianity and Islam. In his 1966/1975 classic lecture, “The Buddhist Attitude to Other Religious,” K.N. Jayatilleke writes:

The Buddhist attitude to other religions has from its very inception been one of critical tolerance. But what is significant is that it was able to combine a missionary zeal with its tolerant outlook. Not a drop of blood has been shed throughout the ages in the propagation and dissemination of Buddhism in the many lands to which it spread and religious wars either between the schools of Buddhism or against other religions have been unheard of. Very rare instances of the persecution of heretical opinions are not lacking but they have been exceptional and atypical. Buddhism has also shown a remarkable degree of adaptability in the course of its historical expansion.

One might object to the claim that Buddhism is a comprehensive philosophy that is peaceful, tolerant, and not particularly politically dangerous: there are either no successful Buddhist sates or the ones that are successful in the sense of being stable, still with us, and so on, are not exactly exemplary. As I write, Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon when Jayatilleke wrote the “not a drop of blood” words above, has just emerged from a bloody civil war. Myanmar is the longest-lasting Soviet-style military dictatorship in the world (tied perhaps with North Korea). In Bhutan, famous for its king’s endorsement of the Gross Happiness Product (GHP), racist practices against Nepalese are considered normal and acceptable. And many of the very same Tibetan Buddhists who make Hollywood weep with nostalgia for Shangri La, and who make the (other) Chinese angry, do so because they long for the most undemocratic form of government conceivable, a feudal theocracy where the leaders are reincarnations of reincarnations.

These facts might be disassociated from Buddhist philosophy, since in each case, with the possible exception of the Tibetan one, the problematic political regime is not itself Buddhist. There is also the possibility, which is what I think really, that Buddhism is a comprehensive philosophy that is very weak in the political philosophy department, overrating compassion and underrating the need for institutions that enact justice as fairness. But again that also is another story.

There are some excellent Buddhist scholars, but almost none of them teach in philosophy departments at research universities in America that offer PhDs (although many excellent ones teach and do research in religion departments at research universities and in philosophy departments at excellent liberal arts colleges). This is strange given that Buddhism is so philosophically rich, contains ideas about personal identity and the metaphysics of nature and causation that ought to appeal to contemporary philosophers, and especially given that as many as one in twelve people on earth are Buddhists.

Most of my personal interaction with Buddhists over the last decade has been with Tibetan Buddhists. Because of the 14the Dalai Lama’s charisma and visibility, certain aspects of this form of Buddhism are familiar, even if not well understood in the West (similar to the situation with Zen in the second half of the twentieth century). Although I do not (as best I can avoid them) enter into sectarian debates that divide Buddhists, I have tried to get a feel myself for the spirit that runs through the Buddhisms - there are only Buddhisms, no Buddhism-by spending time in countries where forms of Buddhism other than the Tibetan variant are lived, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Thailand. I thank the many East Asian and Southeast Asian Buddhists who helped this gadfly try to catch on to their lived philosophy. What I learned in Asia as well as in travels throughout America and Northern Europe talking to Western Buddhists who claim to be of Tibetan or Tantric or Thai or Vipassana or Ch’an (Zen) or Pure Land lineages is that all such souls (Eastern and Western) think they really know what Buddhism is, what the Buddha said, thought, and meant, when in fact they are inspired either by one of the many varieties of Buddhism or by something of a mix of the many varieties of Buddhism. In the East, most Buddhists take their variant as the right one, the true form. In the West, outside the small circle of scholars and serious Buddhists, the largest sects of Buddhists or the Budd-curious divide bimodally depending on what aspects of Buddhism they are most impressed by and interested in: either it is meditation and the personal soul soothing they see meditation offering or it is becoming nicer, more compassionate, and the soul soothing it (or thinking of oneself as nicer) offers. There is room I came to think for a book that introduces those interested in comparative philosophy, as well as the many Westerners interested in Buddhism only or mostly as a form of mental hygiene and/or moral self-improvement and self-indulgence, to the deep structure of the metaphysic, epistemology, and ethics of Buddhist philosophy.

As for by own understanding of Buddhism. Hmm. Once in Korea I was told on arrival that a professor friend had warned that I would be speaking on “Buddhaganism” – Flanagan’s interpretation of Buddhism. This is not a bad way to think about my opinionated interpretation and examination of Buddhist philosophy and psychology offered here. Although I try to offer a credible primer on Buddhist philosophy, I am interested in Buddhism as a great philosophy, in the same sense that we think of Confucian philosophy and classical Greek philosophy as great. But, as in these other cases, I am interested in whether for us contemporary folk there is a useful and truthful philosophy in Buddhism, among the Buddhisms, that is compatible with the rest of knowledge as it now exists and specifically, because this is always a problem for spiritual traditions, whether Buddhism can be naturalized, tamed, and made compatible with a philosophy that is empirically responsible, and that does not embrace the low epistemic standards that permit all manner of superstition and nonsense, sometimes moral evil as well, in the name of tolerance, or, what is different, high spiritual attainment that warrants teleological suspension of the ethical in the hands of fanatics of all stripes. The demand for high epistemic standards is not only directed to Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, it is also intended to call to task those glib souls who claim that science, specifically neuroscience, can tell us, even that it has already told us, about what makes for human flourishing and for true happiness, and that it can reveal, even that it has revealed, how Buddhism, or for that matter any other great comprehensive philosophical tradition, produces what we all want, to achieve eudaimonia, to flourish, to be happy. All such claims are scientifically premature, as well as philosophically naïve. Flourishing and happiness are not in the head, at least not only in the head. These things-flourshing and happiness-might be in our hands if we pay close attention to which among the myriad experiments in living work well, and which ones not so well. History, sociology, anthropology, behavioral economics, comparative philosophy, even what I call comparative neurophilosophy are required, but also happily available, as tools to advance the projects of understanding better whether and how human flourishing is possible, if, that is, it is possible. Living well, finding meaning in a material world for finite beings is a really hard problem, the hardest problem of all.

Introduction: Buddhism Naturalized

Anachronism and Ethnocentrism
Suppose we permitted ourselves this luxury: invite Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, or any other interesting or wise dead person with a view, or who is a representative of a tradition, into our conversations about our problems-poverty, health care, capitalism, how to be a good person, how to live well, to flourish, to be happy-and listen to what they say. This is anachronistic. Some say anachronism is bad, even that it is not allowed. Allow it.

Next imagine responding to the anachronistic answers of our respected ancestors with our own reflective standards of cogency, wisdom, and breadth and depth, feeling free to judge their answers as helpful or inadequate for our problems in our time. This is ethnocentric. It is temporally different but logically identical to judging the ideas and ways of other contemporary peoples as well suited for us or not suited for us, as good for us or not good for us in our time. Some say ethnocentrism is bad, even that it is not allowed. Allow it.

Three Philosophical Styles: Comparative, Fusion, and Cosmopolitan
Next consider three styles of doing philosophy. First there is comparative. Compare and contrast. Regarding ethics, Confucians say that filial piety (xiao) is a mandatory virtue. Aristotle doesn’t mention xiao or anything in its vicinity as essential to morality. For Buddhists, compassion (karuna) is the first and highest virtue; for citizens of contemporary liberal societies, left or right, individual compassion is an optional virtue while justice or fairness, at both the personal and political levels, holds pride of place as a constraint on the exercise of otherwise unlimited freedom. Second, there is fusion. What do we get when we add Confucian xiao to Aristotle's list of virtues? Is it an interesting, appealing mix or not? Could such a mixture work to improve our culture, say, by making the youth more respectful and society more orderly? Finally, there is cosmopolitan. Think of the exercise of reading and living and speaking across different traditions as open, non- committal, energized by an ironic or skeptical attitude about all the forms of life being expressed, embodied, and discussed, including one's own, but sensitive also to the demands of one's own way of being and living given its utterly contingent but nonetheless identity-constitutive role in making one who he or she is. The cosmopolitan is a listener and a speaker, an anachronistic and ethnocentric one, he or she compares and contrasts, is willing to try fusings of silly and safe sorts, but mostly likes living at the intersection of multiple spaces of meaning, waiting and seeing and watching whatever happens happen.

Many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism because it offers one way to be "spiritual but not religious," the currently favored answer to the religion question on social networking sites. This is an interesting development. Historically Buddhism is atheistic or quietistic when it comes to a creator God. Siddhartha put the creation question, as well as most other standard metaphysical questions, aside in one early sutra as impractical or beyond human understanding or both. But Buddhism is opulently poly- theistic insofar as spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits abound (Collins 2003, 104). Buddhists in East and Southeast Asia believe in rebirth in about the same proportions as most North Americans believe in heaven. Amusingly, many believers in heaven find belief in rebirth superstitious and thus silly, whereas from a reflective naturalistic perspective both are silly. Is a fully secular, naturalistic understanding of Buddhism possible? Are Quakers and Unitarians Christians? Are secular, naturalistic Buddhists really Buddhists?

Naturalism comes in many varieties (Flanagan 2006), but the entry-level union card-David Hume is our hero-expresses solidarity with this motto: "Just say no to the supernatural." Rebirths, heavens, hells, creator gods, teams of gods, village demons, miracles, divine retributions in the form of plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis are things naturalists don't believe in. What there is, and all there is, is natural stuff, and everything that happens has some set of natural causes that produce it-although we may not be able to figure out what these causes are or were. Why be a naturalist? World historical evidence suggests that naturalism, vague as it is, keeps being vindicated, while the zones "explained" by the supernatural get smaller everyday. Naturalism is a good bet.

Buddhism Naturalized
Imagine Buddhism without rebirth and without a karmic system that guarantees justice ultimately will be served, without nirvana, without bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves, without Buddha worlds, without nonphysical states of mind, without any deities, without heaven and hell realms, without oracles, and without lamas who are reincarnations of lamas. What would be left? My answer is that what would remain would be an interesting and defensible philosophical theory with a metaphysics, a theory about what there is and how it is, an epistemology, a theory about how we come to know and what we can know, and an ethics, a theory about virtue and vice and how best to live. This philosophical theory is worthy of attention by analytic philosophers and scientific naturalists because it is deep. Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, is compatible with the neo- Darwinian theory of evolution and with a commitment to scientific materialism. Such a total philosophy, again if there is or could be such a thing that could be called credibly "Buddhist" after subtracting what is psychologically and sociologically understandable, but that epistemically speaking is incredible superstition and magical thinking, would be what I call "Buddhism naturalized," or something in its vicinity. Such a theory might shed light on the human predicament, on how finite material beings such as human animals fit into the larger scheme of material being. Because such a theory would speak honestly, without the mind-numbing and wishful hocus pocus that infects much Mahayana Buddhism, but possibly not so much early Theravada Buddhism, Buddhism naturalized, if there is or can be such a thing, delivers what Buddhism possibly uniquely among the world's live spiritual traditions, promises to offer: no false promises, no positive illusions, no delusions. False self-serving belief, moha, is a sin for Buddhists.

"Buddhism naturalized" is in the declarative mode, thus inviting being read as a moniker for a kind of Buddhism that already exists, and indeed I think it does. But one might think, and think rightly, that even if naturalistic Buddhism does have some advocates, it is definitely a minority movement. Almost every university professor and college-educated businessperson I interviewed in 2009 in Thailand claimed to believe that one can purchase, by donations or by good acts, "merit" that will be counted toward a better rebirth; the Dalai Lama consults oracles; and Alan Wallace, a prominent American Buddhist scholar, speaks for the majority in insisting that Buddhism is incompatible with "neurophysicalism"-the view that mental events are brain events-of the sort that I, like most other philosophers of mind and neuroscientists, defend. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak or write "Buddhism naturalized!" as an imperative, which would make it clear that this is a work of advocacy for something that doesn't yet have any traction, at most a tenuous foothold, but that I think ought to exist, something worth fantasizing about like the "the best chocolate cake in the history of the universe that is also not fattening!" A better way of putting the topic, the issue, the problem might be neither declaratively nor imperatively, but more humbly in the form of a question, "Buddhism naturalized?", which conveys that what I am up to, or what I should be wondering about, is the question of whether there is or could be such an item as naturalistic Buddhism. This is the way perhaps that a true cosmopolitan would engage in my project.

Even if there is a minority movement that fits the bill of naturalized Buddhism in the sense that it dissociates itself from beliefs in supernatural and nonphysical phenomena, it does not follow that it really deserves to call itself Buddhism. Actually it doesn't really matter to me whether the philosophical theory I am interested in talking about here is called "Buddhism," "buddhism," or just the philosophical theory-the metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics-that remains after you subtract the unwarranted nonnatural beliefs in Buddhism from Buddhism.

It might be claimed that "naturalistic Buddhism" is possible because it once was, or is now, actual. The original Buddhism of Siddhartha Gautama from 500 BCE, and possibly some kinds of less metaphysically extravagant Theravada Buddhism of the first few centuries of the common era, as well as contemporary secular Western Buddhism(s) come to mind as candidates. Still one might wonder whether such a thing as Buddhism naturalized as I conceive it, and thus even the Buddhism of Siddhartha himself, is or could really be Buddhist, as opposed to some twisted sister of the real thing. There is fool's gold but it isn't really gold. Gold is the substance with atomic number 79. Good imitations of gold are not gold. Could a tradition like Buddhism be like that? Specifically, could it be that if you subtract the hocus pocus about rebirth and karma, and bodhisattvas flying on lotus leaves, and Buddha worlds, and nonphysical states of mind, and deities (although not a creator god), and heaven and hell realms, and oracles, and lamas who are reincarnations of lamas, there is no Buddhism left? Could this suite of supernatural beliefs be to Buddhism what the atomic number 79 is to gold, such that whatever it is that is on offer under the guise of Buddhism naturalized, it isn't, can't be a bona fide Buddhism without these nonnatural, supernatural beliefs?

Perhaps Buddhism naturalized would be a weird or dangerous doctrine, or at a minimum and more credibly, as I've said, it might not really beBuddhist. Think of it this way: Can one be a Jew, Christian, or Muslim without heaven or hell or without God, say Yahweh, God, Allah, conceived as one and the same or different conceptions of God; Or with one (either one-God and heaven and hell) and not the other (God but not heaven or hell, say)? Because what is actual is possible, some secular Jews would seem to be proof that some such credible and stable Judaism naturalized exists. Perhaps some secular humanists from Britain or the United States or Iraq or Turkey can make the same claim for themselves-that is, that they are Christians or Muslims without the supernatural stuff. There are now, in the West at least, wise persons educated III the tradition who claim to be nonbelieving Buddhists, something akin to what we would call agnostics and atheists if we were inside the Abrahamic traditions. Stephen Batchelor (2010), a former monk in both a Tibetan (Gelug) and Korean (Zen) lineage, calls himself a Buddhist atheist.

Scientific Naturalism and Analytic Philosophy
Naturalists believe that when it comes to saying what there is, or might be, we should stick close to the facts. And when it comes to explaining how things that happened or are happening happened, stick to causes that have revealed themselves both to exist and to possess actual causal powers that could explain the phenomena. Despite the fun provided, tooth fairies are not candidates for what gets done when a child loses her tooth and hides it under her pillow. Mommies and daddies are. Sometimes how things happened, say the Big Bang, are cloaked in mystery. Naturalists endorse quietism or neutrality on such mysteries, awaiting in this case the experts, the astrophysicists, to say something deeper than that, which is now known. It is not just a matter of opinion to which everyone has an equal entitlement to speak (and have us listen) about how things happened or are happening, when what happened or how it happened is puzzling or obscure.

Analytic philosophy is a style of philosophy that prefers care in argumentation, and that favors strong inductive and/or valid and sound arguments, where possible, for its conclusions. Poetic, purely evocative discourse is welcomed, as long as its truth claims, if there are any, can be put into arguments. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are stunningly great analytic philosophers who write poetically but meet this standard. Pure poetry, artistic expression, is preferred and/or privileged when it comes to expressing how things seem; more direct modes-scientific and analytic ways of speaking, writing, and arguing-are preferred when describing the way things are.

The anachronistic, ethnocentric, and cosmopolitan discussion that follows has two parts, which can be read independently of each other. Part I, "An Essay in Comparative Neurophilosophy," is devoted to extending a contemporary discussion that crosses boundaries between neuroscience and philosophy and pertains specifically to the question of whether Buddhism produces flourishing or, what is different, happiness, and whether neuroscience can study such things as flourishing and happiness. The very public discussion about the alleged connection between Buddhism and happiness gives me a chance to wear the only two hats I own. With my philosopher- of-mind hat on, I write a cautionary tale of excessive enthusiasm for what brain science alone can reveal about what we want most to know about: in the present case, the causes and constituents of human flourishing and hap- piness. With my comparative philosopher cap on, I try to isolate what claims a naturalized Buddhism might make on behalf of itself as an embodied philosophy that produces its own kind of flourishing and happiness; and I try to explain what kind of flourishing and happiness that is, what I call eudai-Monia Buddha and happiness Buddha. At present, there is no basis for the claim that Buddhists are the happiest people in the world, even that they are happier than average. I explain a host of reasons for skepticism that any evidence for such a claim exists or is in the offing, ever. Part I ends with a chapter on Buddhist epistemology, which I claim is staunchly empiricist, and thus science friendly and potentially attractive to naturalists. Because Buddhist epistemology is empiricist, it has I claim the tools internal to itself to naturalize. Buddhism naturalized can be achieved without a hostile takeover.

Part II, "Buddhism as a Natural Philosophy," takes up the feature of Buddhism that makes it most interesting to this philosopher, namely, Buddhism claims that there is a powerful conceptual and possibly motivational link between being an empiricist epistemologist, gaining metaphysical insight into the impermanence of everything including one's self, and being a good person who flourishes and possibly is happy. Part II is devoted to explaining more thoroughly what, assuming now there can be such a thing, a naturalized Buddhism would look like, and how it might be an interesting conversation partner to those of us who are scientific naturalists and analytic philosophers, and who are still trying, after all the years, to better understand what there is, how we can know it, and how best to live given all the uncertainty. It might seem odd to say this, but I will: among the world's great still living spiritual traditions, Buddhism naturalized offers, along with Confucianism, which was always pretty naturalistic, an interesting, possibly useful way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

Contents

Prefaceix
Acknowledgmentsxv
Introduction: Buddhism Naturalized1
IAn Essay in Comparative Neurophiliosophy
1The Bodhisattva's Brain9
2The Color of Happiness37
3Buddhist Epistemology and Science59
IIBuddhism as a Natural Philosophy
4Selfless Persons93
5Being No-Self and Being Nice115
6Virtue and Happiness165
Postscript: Cosmopolitanism and Comparative Philosophy203
Notes209
References237
Index249
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